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From Google To Disney To OkCupid, Top Technology Execs Are Authors Too

( [email protected] ) Dec 19, 2014 02:41 PM EST
As shoppers mob stores and online sites to finish their holiday shopping this month, they will find no shortage of books for sale by technology executives from companies big and small. Indeed, 2014 was a year when a number of tech company leaders, some well-known and a few who are not, felt compelled to share their philosophies of management, business savvy, and a lot more in hardbound, glossily packaged books.

As shoppers mob stores and online sites to finish their holiday shopping this month, they will find no shortage of books for sale by technology executives from companies big and small. Indeed, 2014 was a year when a number of tech company leaders, some well-known and a few who are not, felt compelled to share their philosophies of management, business savvy, and a lot more in hardbound, glossily packaged books.

Leading the pack was Jonathan Rosenberg, who for years managed Google's products division and remains a top advisor to CEO Larry Page. His book - How Google Works - is unusual because the company seldom allows outsiders to view the inner workings of what has become one of the most powerful and influential firms in the world, in any industry.

Rosenberg co-authored his book with Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman. The two executives provide an in-depth look at Google's management approach, although the company's fondness for secrecy still intrudes. At one point, Rosenberg uses a code name for the actual code name from a company classified project since abandoned many years ago.

Rosenberg does recount Google's controversial decision to pull out of China in 2010 over censorship issues, providing a precise timeline for how they developed their exit strategy for their mainland China product. And there is also an interesting analysis of the sophisticated Chinese hack attack against the search giant. As he put it during Atlantic Magazine's "Navigate" Tech Conference in San Francisco earlier this month, "It was always an uneasy dynamic in China."

Another industry heavyweight whose book was published this year is Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and Palantir. In Zero To One, Thiel offers readers his view of capitalism and recipe for success in the modern age, which can be neatly summarized by the opinion that "competition is for losers."

This philosophy is based on the premise that truly great companies are essentially monopolies (see Google or Facebook), and that, as Thiel put it during the Post Seed Conference a few weeks ago, "If you want to compete like crazy you should open a restaurant in San Francisco."

Thiel also takes on the bias among Silicon Valley engineers that marketing is just a superficial waste of time. As Thiel puts it, "If you've invented something new, but you haven't invented an effective way to sell it, you have a bad business."

Another technology executive with plenty of advice to offer if you are thinking about founding a startup company is Mikkel Svane, the CEO of Zendesk. His new book - Startupland - chronicles his treacherous journey through the challenges of funding his new company, which provides customer support software and went public in May.

In an excerpt reprinted in TechCrunch, Svane describes how one potential investor became so demanding and belligerent that he decided to abandon traditional venture funding altogether and raised early money only from family and friends instead. "It's not something I would recommend to anybody starting a company," Svane recalled during a book-signing event at the company's new San Francisco headquarters two weeks ago. "But it worked out okay."

One of the youngest tech executives to publish a book this year is Christian Rudder, the co-founder of the popular dating website OkCupid and guitarist in the pop band Bishop Allen. His new book - Dataclysm - is a deeper look at the human psyche based on the mountain of data his site generates every minute of every day.

Rudder's book has generated a fair measure of controversy, based on his declaration in a blog post earlier this year that "we experiment on human beings." He has admitted to studying the behavior of people using his site very closely and documents much of what he found in his book.

There were more than 1,200 responses to his blog post from many people outraged that Rudder was experimenting on anyone. The author's response: "If you use the Internet, you're the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That's how websites work."

Finally, there is a book published earlier this year by Ed Catmull, the head of Disney Studios and co-founder of Pixar. Catmull's literary contribution is Creativity, Inc., which was singled out by Forbes Magazine as "one of the half-dozen best books that have been written about creative business and creative leadership."

Catmull draws his management approach from a rich and impressive role over many years in both the technology and entertainment fields. His work intersected at various times with filmmaker George Lucas (Catmull built the computer graphics department for Lucasfilm) and tech industry icon Steve Jobs (when the Apple co-founder bought Catmull's division and founded Pixar).

Catmull carefully describes his open and inclusive management practices throughout this significant journey in a book that is as interesting for his anecdotes about the great minds he worked with as it is for the business approach that served him so well.

If there is a common theme to all of these books by technology leaders this year it is the willingness to survive and continue despite failure. In the technology industry, failure is inevitable, but true success comes from accepting that and moving on. As Catmull described it during a far-ranging interview at a Stanford conference this fall, "If you have a failure, you move forward. People see that and it becomes part of the company culture."

These authors have this and much more advice to offer for those looking for inspiration and useful insight as we all move forward with the start of a new year.